Interview with Allan C. Carlson
Briefly tell us what you mean by a “Third Way”?
The term represents the search for an economic system that was neither communist nor freewheeling capitalist. Third Way systems were committed to the ideals of democracy—including economic democracy—and pluralism. Unlike liberal capitalism, these systems refused to treat human relationships and labor as commodities like any other. Unlike communism, these systems defended private property in land and basic goods and underscored the dignity and rights of individuals and families. Unlike both liberal capitalists and Communists, they treasured rural culture, family-scale farming, gender complementary, and the vital household economy.
Were “Third Way” economic systems frivolous thought experiments? Or were they ever actually tried? What were the results?
These were real experiments. In the young democracies of post World War I Eastern Europe, for example, agrarian or peasant parties came to power. Their common program affirmed that farm land should belong to those who work it, meaning land redistribution from the old nobility to peasant families. More surprisingly, they also favored targetted industrialization, free trade, cooperatives, constitutionalism, equitable tax reform, republicanism, decentralized governance, pacifism, educational reform, and public service by youth. Alas, despite promising beginnings, most of these regimes succumbed to ruthless militarist, fascist, and communist coups. Meanwhile, in the United States and Sweden, maternalist movements successfully built “family wage” regimes premised on the breadwinner/ homemaker/child-rich family model. They thrived for decades, only to fall before new feminist challenges in the 1960’s.
You write about the “First Green International” and link it to conservative, pro-family values. What was this Green International?
The “Green International” took form in 1923. Formally called the International Agrarian Bureau, it was based in Prague. The organization promoted the cooperation of agrarian parties across international boundaries. One specific project aimed at creating a Danubian free trade zone in Central and Eastern Europe.
A recurring phrase in your book appears to be “the family wage.” What is a “family wage”? Did it ever really exist?
A “family wage” regime rests on a restructuring of the labor market to restrict female labor and favor the payment of a family-sustaining wage to fathers. Recognizing the complementary nature of men and women and celebrating fulltime motherhood, this system intentionally used both custom and law to reserve the better paying jobs for men. It treated women’s market labor as secondary in nature. Family wage regimes also favored publicly-provided widow’s pensions and the training of girls in the domestic arts. This book describes the blossoming of family wage regimes in both the United States and Sweden between 1900 and 1970.
One of your chapters might be called the story of “Desperate Swedish Socialist Housewives.” Where did they come from? Why were they desperate?
The “desperate” housewives of Sweden were democratic socialists who favored their own version of a family-wage system. During the first two-thirds of the 20th Century, they pushed through policies favoring the full-time mother and homemaker, including: tax policies passed on income splitting; universal state child allowances; the mandatory training of school girls in housekeeping and child care; and the payment of a family-sustaining wage to fathers and husbands. They grew desperate during the 1930’s—and again in the late 1960’s—when “equity” feminists led by Alva Myrdal challenged their influence in the Social Democratic Party.
You describe at length “Distributism,” the economic ideas of G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. What were its key principles? What relevance does Distributism have to today?
The key principle of Distributism was that private property was so important, that every family should have some. Chesterton and Belloc argued that both capitalism and socialism favored the consolidation of property, among a small number of financiers in the former case and with state control in the latter. The Distributists opposed all monopolies. They favored taxation and regulatory policies that would deliver home ownership, small family farms, independent retail shops, cooperatives, and a share of ownership for workers in necessarily large industries. In a globalizing era, their call for attention to the fate of small property has gained new relevance.
Your book examines the effort by Christian Democrats to build an economic system on the ideal of “homo religiosus.” What does this term mean? How would this system differ from a market economy?
The Christian Democratic economist Wilhelm Ropke rejected the libertarian concept of “economic man,” labeling both “the cult of productivity” and the worship of an abstract “standard of living” as disorders of “spiritual perception.” In their place, he offered “religious man” as the proper framework for economic theory. While staunchly defending private property and free markets, Ropke insisted that a successful market economy required a strong moral and ethical framework. This could only be the product of “family, church, genuine communities, and tradition.” Like the English Distributists, Ropke favored regulatory measures to prevent the formation of monopolies and to encourage home ownership, small-shops, and family farms. He also favored creation of a limited family-centered welfare state, including widow’s benefits, health insurance, and public pensions.
Your book describes the Russian economist, Alexander Chayanov, and his theory of “the natural family economy.”
What did he mean by that term? How important was his work?
Chayanov argued that family-scale or peasant agricultural systems operate on their own set of rules, which are radically different from those found in capitalist or communist regimes. He showed how both marriage and the presence of children were the driving forces behind the “natural family economy” of the peasant farm. Chaynov constructed an alternative micro-economy for this unit, premised on biological determinism, subsistence rather than accumulation, the “self-exploitation” of the peasant family, and the powerful influence of the consumer/worker ratio within each home. While Joseph Stalin destroyed his work (and claimed his life in 1939), Chayanov’s distinctive micro-economics has found new relevance in the era of post-Communist globalization.
Why have“Third Way” economic systems tended to disappear?
Part of the reason lay in the relative decency of Third Way advocates in an age dominated by violence and moral monsters. Chayanov, for example, offered a non-Marxist alternative for post-1917 Russia that was premised on democracy and social justice for the peasant majority. He failed to anticipate the rise and brutality of Stalin. The agrarian democracies of Eastern Europe also placed their faith in constitutionalism and democracy. Alas, their enemies—Communists, fascists, militarists, hyper-nationalists, anti-Semites, royalists, and monopolists—were more ruthless, ready to destroy democracy and murder the elected peasant leaders who stood in their way. Meanwhile, the innate decency of the Swedish socialist housewives as child- and home-centered women allowed them to fall victim to the radical social-engineering schemes of a hard left regime.
A curious phrase keeps recurring in your book: The Servile State. Where does this term come from? Is it still relevant to our time?
Belloc crafted the term, explaining that “the effect of socialist doctrine upon capitalist society is to produce a third thing different from either of its two begetters—to wit, the Servile State.” Making the same point, Chesterton used an alternate label: the Business Government, which would “combine everything that is bad in all the plans for a better world….There will be nothing but a loathsome thing called Social Service.” My book argues that the modern welfare states of Europe and the United States have enhanced the servile status of many workers, linking state benefits to a minimum wage. Coerced work has also become a reality for many young mothers, as the Business Government—in league with equity feminists—seeks to eliminate the full-time homemaker. Other signs of the contemporary spread of the Servile State range from the erosion of property rights in the U.S. to the triumph of the oligarchs in post-Communist Russia, where an oil-funded welfare system combines with state-favored monopolies to deliver another version of the Servile State.
Your conclusion says that building a “Family Wage” economy may be a better goal for the 21st Century? Why this change in terminology? What would a Family Way economy look like?
With the fall of Communism in the old Soviet Empire and its eclipse even in China, the old terminology no longer works. In face of the resurgent Servile State, a new model is needed. I propose a “Family Way.” Such an economy would treat the family grounded in marriage, not the individual, as its fundamental unit. Real property would be so treasured that every household would have some. Where outside employment was necessary, it would favor the payment of a “family wage” to the head-of-household so that the other parent—normally the mother—might devote herself to children and home production. It would give strong legal and financial protections to family-held businesses. This economy would favor small farms and independent shops. It would favor home offices for doctors, lawyers, accountants and other professionals. It would encourage families to create home businesses, to garden, to engage in modest animal husbandry and to homeschool their children. And it would frown on advertising that relied on the vices of lust, sloth, greed, gluttony, envy and pride.